THE teams were lining up for the Newcestown and Cloyne hurling game last weekend when commentator Mark Landers immediately noted the positioning of Luke Meade.
Landers mentioned that the move of the Cork player to centre-back was an interesting one, and it was for a few reasons.
Meade would get to pick up Paudie O’Sullivan for starters, Cloyne’s main scoring threat; Newcestown won reasonably handily and Meade was very influential in a role where he both dealt with O’Sullivan and also got to dictate the game on the ball.
When manager Jim O’Sullivan pointed out afterwards that it had been an idea that’d been knocking around for a while — they’d basically been waiting for the right combination of players around him to make it work — it was another pointer at what can arise when clubs are given the room to experiment a bit more.
O’Sullivan referenced it as a position Meade likes himself, he played plenty around the half-back line and midfield on underage and school teams anyway and his clever movement and ability to find space and move the ball neatly suits the role.
Newcestown maybe needed different skillsets in certain zones of the field to use the ball more effectively.
The main takeaway is that teams are adapting to having two and three proper games with lead-ins and how to use their top players is becoming a real decision that can influence games and results and championships.
It’s one of the more obvious questions for all games really — where to get the most from your best player and as an aside, whether the way of playing should be moulded around them or the star player fitted into the system of playing?
There’s a way of thinking for instance that Lionel Messi might not be worth the hassle or money given a role has to be found for him that fits the team model.
We read a really good interview this week with the head of the Italian football coaching set-up where he mentioned not following the exact same formation or tactics with different groups coming through, instead being able to adapt to the team you have.
So if the team was loaded with no 10s, play two no 10s or if the team has an overload of strikers you don’t play one up front.
The battle for space on the field has become an ever-growing problem. Trent Alexander Arnold and Andrew Roberton were Liverpool’s main goal creators this season, the full-backs exploiting the gaps of pitch in front of them to run into and cross balls from the wings.
It follows that teams will play their better strikers of the ball and their more effective players in areas that they can touch the ball the most, those spaces of influence that can alter as games adapt and move on.
We wrote a few weeks back about the explosion of performances from Cork players and Cork forwards in particular for their clubs and this is another element.
A scorer-in-chief is always going to have to play in the forward line so that decision generally comes down to where the pace or ball-winning is more likely to lead to scores.
A man-marker at inter-county will probably be needed for the same job at club.
A key player in the middle third though has some scope for trying something different to alter the dynamic of a team perhaps.
Daniel Kearney has been playing centre-back for Sars as well, partly as he’s not needed in the forward and partly as it’s not far from his sitting midfielder/half-forward role anyway, but it’s still a shift in how and where on the pitch he can most effect the game.
Kearney explained how a player in that centre-back role can play an awful lot of ball and find an awful lot of space because of how teams tend to set up now.
As it happened, Michael Cahalane’s move to centre-back allowed Bandon take control of their game with Mallow last weekend as well in a slightly different way.
Teams don’t have to move their most influential players to number six to make things happen but as a way of trying to get the players you want on the ball as much as possible, it’s one of those positions that makes sense again in hurling now.
As an example, think how say Nemo and Cork have used Paul Kerrigan over the years in a lot of slightly different roles as necessary — out on the wings in the spaces, as an inside-forward target to isolate one-v-one, as a playmaker at centre-forward, as a roaming sweeper from the half-back line to carry ball — and always with the idea of getting them the optimum effect from one of their key influencers.
There’s been a lot of talk of the negativity of using a sweeper in hurling. Meade’s role wasn’t as a sweeper exactly but it comes from a similar place of having a really decent player in a position where a lot of the team’s plays with the ball go through him.
It’s just another tick in the momentum for the movement to a split club/intercounty season to happen now.
If there are mentions of allowing to club game to be talked about again, to be allowed be THE important thing again for supporters away from the inter-county glare, one of the main reasonings always for a proper calendar of games was that it allowed teams games and time together to improve — something Derek Kavanagh to be fair pointed out several times in the past.
Clubs have been together with their coaches for several weeks now and allowed time to develop the rhythm of games and training and trying out new positions and roles.
One match analysis at club level spoke about the freshness of having valid games to review as opposed to several months of gaps or the rush of so many games in a week and the difference that can make to the quality of coaching and improving a team as it foes.
If we’re all going through a learning experience on what works and doesn’t work in the GAA world, clubs are figuring out for themselves the most effective use of its players on an ongoing basis.
It’s fairly easy to argue that interest levels have risen and teams and games have been better, which is what it’s all about surely.